Scammers are out in force, taking advantage of all aspects of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission has spotted plenty of bogus cures and treatments, but many people have told the FTC about straight-up scams, like texts/emails/calls from a “government agency” promising to get your relief money for you.
Others have told us about things that could be scams (or could be businesses catching up with the new reality) — like websites that promise scarce cleaning products or masks (that never arrive), or problems related to getting money back for cancelled travel plans.
Every weekday, the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s data analysts pull all those reports together to give you a glimpse into what the data is telling us. And, every weekday, you can find that report at ftc.gov/exploredata. But let me hit a few high points for you here.
- From Jan. 1 until today, the FTC has received 18,235 reports related to COVID-19, and people reported losing $13.44 million dollars to fraud.
- The top complaint categories relate to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages, and all kinds of imposters.
- While reports of robocalls are way down overall, we’re now hearing about callers invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to pretend to be from the government, or making illegal medical or health care pitches, among other topics.
- The big states have, not unexpectedly, the biggest number of reports. You can check out how many people are reporting what in your state.
If you’re getting calls, emails, or texts, or you’re seeing ads or offers online, keep a few things in mind: First, the government will never call out of the blue to ask for money or your personal information (like Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers). And second, anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or Money Gram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legit businesses will never tell you to pay that way.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t answer the phone unless you know the caller
- Don’t fall for pitches — drug or nutritional supplements to cure or prevent infection by the coronavirus, or at-home virus kits don’t exist
- Don’t send money to people you haven’t met
- Watch for charity scams
You can check out ftc.gov/exploredatato know what others in the world are seeing. To keep up with the latest scams, and what the FTC is doing, sign up to get Consumer Alerts. And please keep reporting what you’re seeing at ftc.gov/complaint.